Tough Questions


Tough Questions

John 7

Main Idea: John records twenty questions—asked of Jesus or by Jesus—and the answers provide insight into who Jesus is and why he came.

  1. Where Is Jesus (7:1-13)?
  2. How Does Jesus Know So Much (7:14-18)?
  3. Who Wants to Kill Jesus (7:19-24)?
  4. Who Is Jesus (7:25-31)?
  5. Will You Come to Jesus (7:32-39)?
  6. Do You Believe Jesus (7:40-52)?

One day one of my children told me he had a Bible question for me. That’s great. I can handle it. “What’s a mustard seed taste like?” he asked. “Can you eat it?” I have spent hours in Greek, Hebrew, theology, church history, even practical theology, yet nothing prepared me for this question. Not one professor had discussed the flavor of mustard seeds. We sometimes get the toughest questions from the most unlikely sources. Questions help us better understand the truth. Often the tougher the question, the more helpful the answer. In John 7 we find twenty questions—more than one question every three verses. John has made the case for Jesus’s identity in the previous chapters by recording different miracles and some long talks in which Jesus explains to the people who he is. But in this chapter he takes a different approach. He records all these questions, and the answers provide insight into who Jesus is and why he came. We can boil the twenty questions down to these six major ones.

Where Is Jesus?

John 7:1-13

The half brothers and half sisters of Jesus think he should go up to Jerusalem for the Festival of Shelters (or Booths or Tabernacles) since most Jewish men make that trip each year. They don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah, and they think his appearance in Jerusalem will expose him as a fraud (7:3-5). They challenge him, essentially saying, “If you’re really the Messiah, go make it public! What are you trying to hide?” But Jesus’s timetable is not their timetable because his purpose is not their purpose. Sometimes we get frustrated when God doesn’t do something on our timetable. We have everything planned, everything ready, but he fails to do our bidding. Could it be that God is doing something greater than we realize? Could it be that the God who has always existed may have a plan that you, with your twenty years or forty years or eighty years of wisdom, don’t understand? To follow Jesus means we give up control of our timetable and our purpose. We turn over the keys, the map, and the schedule to him.

Jesus wasn’t in Jerusalem because he was busy doing the work of God (7:6-8). Jesus didn’t come to earth to gather a crowd. In chapter 6 his hard sayings pushed the crowd away, revealing those who were following him for entertainment. Jesus came to expose and then die for sin. “You don’t understand,” Jesus tells his brothers. “People don’t hate you, but they hate me because my presence exposes their sin” (my paraphrase). Jesus isn’t complaining about being unpopular. He was pretty popular. Crowds flocked to him wherever he went. He’s stating a fact. He, the light of the world, exposes the darkness of man’s sin (3:19-20). I know how tempting sin is. I know how easy it would be to do wrong things if no one were around to see me. I understand all too well Jesus’s statement that men love darkness rather than light because they love their sin. But an encounter with Jesus exposes that sin. He turns the lights on, and our sin can’t be hidden. When our sin is held up against his perfect righteousness, we can’t help but see how filthy we are. At that point we have two options: come to him for cleansing or hate him for exposing our dirtiness.

If Jesus were just some run-of-the-mill, glory-seeking, fame-craving false prophet, he could have gone up to Jerusalem, done mighty works, gathered large crowds, and basked in their adoration. But Jesus is the light of the world, and when the light enters darkness, everything is exposed for what it really is. This is what Jesus’s family doesn’t understand. The religious leaders were plotting to kill him because he broke their religious monopoly (7:1). Everyone else looked at the Jewish religious leaders and saw their good deeds, but Jesus saw their pride and self-righteousness. He exposed their sin. But he didn’t just come to expose sin; he came to die for sin.

The Gospel of John is an ever-progressing journey. From the first words, it points us to a specific place—the cross. Seven of its twenty-one chapters focus on the time between the Last Supper and the resurrection. Here it was not Jesus’s time to die (7:6, 8). This chapter begins by telling us that Jesus did not go up to Judea because that’s where people were waiting to kill him. But lest we think Jesus was a coward, he says, “My time has not yet arrived” (v. 6; emphasis added). Jesus was moving toward the cross, but he was doing so on God’s timing. The crucifixion of Jesus was part of God’s eternal plan to provide our salvation. It was God’s will to crush his Son to save us. The giving of his life for our guilt was the only perfect remedy for our sin. His righteous life offered in place of ours was the only acceptable means whereby our iniquities could be paid for.

Jesus exposed sin, but then he died for it. There’s a pattern here that his disciples can follow. Jesus was like a doctor explaining the symptoms and then offering the cure. He exposed in order to heal. The Pharisees were good at exposing sin. They loved to point out everyone else’s mistakes. They loved to sit in court and hand out punishments for people’s crimes. One time they brought a woman to Jesus who was caught committing adultery. No one would doubt her guilt. They wanted Jesus to lead her stoning, but he didn’t. Instead he exposed their sin: “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her” (8:7). They all left. Only Jesus was without sin. Only he could throw the first stone, but he didn’t. He offered forgiveness.

As his followers, we have a similar mandate (Eph 5:11). We aren’t the light of the world, but we are to reflect the light into the world and in so doing expose the works of darkness. But we don’t expose sin to make ourselves look better or gloat in our goodness. We expose sin to offer a cure—the blood of Jesus.

Sometimes Christians think exposing sin turns a person into a self-righteous ogre. Maybe they think of the command, “Judge not!” Maybe into their heads pops a picture of Hester Prynne slinking around New England with a scarlet letter sewn to her bodice. These images of exposing sin are probably the reason most churches refuse to confront sin on any level. Even though Jesus commands church discipline, and the commands are reiterated throughout the New Testament, most churches practice selective amnesia, conveniently forgetting God’s command to deal with sin in the church. How we deal with sin as a church either distorts or clarifies the gospel of Jesus. We distort the gospel when we ignore sin, pretending it doesn’t exist. We distort the gospel when we expose sin without offering the hope of forgiveness. But when we expose sin as sin and then extend the promise of healing in Jesus, we clarify the gospel.

Churches need to take sin seriously. Christians need to love one another enough to be willing to say, “Hold on! You’re going down a bad path. That’s the way of foolishness that leads to death.” But we must say it in love and always for the purpose of healing and happiness. Jesus exposed sin and then died to defeat it. We expose sin and then tell people they can have victory over it through the blood of Jesus.

In John 7:11 the crowds asked, “Where is he?” The answer is that Jesus was waiting for the right moment to head to Jerusalem. At the appointed hour he would head to Jerusalem to crush sin once and for all. But not yet. His time had not come.

How Does Jesus Know So Much?

John 7:14-18

George Whitefield lived during the eighteenth century and was one of the human catalysts of the Great Awakening. God used Whitefield powerfully in both England and America as he preached the gospel in open fields to thousands. Whitefield was a man of incredible spiritual power, and he possessed remarkable physical gifts. One biographer wrote,

[Whitefield] recounts that in Philadelphia that same year on Wednesday, April 6, he preached on Society Hill twice in the morning to about 6,000, and in the evening to near 8,000. On Thursday, he spoke to “upwards of ten thousand,” and it was reported at one of these events the words, “‘He opened his mouth and taught them saying,’ were distinctly heard at Gloucester point, a distance of two miles by water down the Delaware River. . . . And there were times when the crowds reached 20,000 or more.” (Cited in Piper, “Velvet-Mouthed Preacher”)

Two miles! Twenty thousand people! Outdoors! No microphones! I would have loved to hear George Whitefield preach. But Whitefield’s preaching was nothing compared to Jesus Christ’s. When he spoke, people marveled; they were awestruck by his command of the Scriptures. “How is this man so learned, since he hasn’t been trained?” (v. 15). Jesus could have answered simply, “I know so much because I’m God.” That’s true, but he gave a different reason. He said he knew so much because he was sent by God. Remember who Jesus is speaking with: devout Jews—men and women who hold the writings of the Old Testament in high esteem. They would have been hesitant to believe someone was God, but they had for centuries believed God sent people to deliver his message.

However, Jesus goes even further. He claims to have a message from God, and then he says in effect, “If you don’t recognize it, it’s because your hearts are unwilling to submit to God” (v.17). He connects the head and the heart. He says submission comes before understanding. The gateway to the mind is the heart. When we rebel against God’s will, our ability to understand and comprehend spiritual truth is compromised. Or to put it simply: Unbelief causes misunderstanding. Understanding spiritual truth isn’t simply an intellectual exercise. It’s spiritual. You can study Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic; you can memorize all of the notes in your favorite study Bible; but until you submit to the will of God, it won’t make sense. Jesus says faith, which includes trusting him and submitting to his will, precedes understanding.

John wrote this Gospel so we can understand who Jesus is, and by understanding we can exercise faith. God wants us to use our minds; that’s why he gave them to us. However, Jesus cautions us about putting too much confidence in our own understanding. At some point we have to come to the place where we say, “God, I don’t understand it all. I can’t understand it all. But this I know: I’m a sinner, and I need a Savior. Jesus died to be my Savior. I’m asking you to show me mercy because of what Jesus did.” When you reach that point, then you’ll understand the truth about Jesus.

Imagine walking across a frozen pond and seeing something under the surface. You bend down for a closer look, and you can make out some details but not enough to know for sure what it is. Day after day you come back and look, but you’re never sure whether it is what you think it is. The ice on top of the pond distorts the object just enough so that you’re not absolutely sure. How will you figure out what it is? How will you come to know for sure? You’ve got to break the ice. Your will is the ice. Until your will is broken, until your will gets out of the way, you’ll never reach the depth of understanding you desire. We can never separate our will and our understanding.

Some Christians think spiritual growth is simply about more Bible knowledge. We think attending a certain Bible study and gaining more information means we’re growing spiritually. We think reading some books means our faith is growing. We think a certain person who can quote a bunch of verses is a spiritual giant. We confuse Bible knowledge with actual spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity means we’re submitting our will to the Father’s. Spiritual maturity means I value assembling with God’s people, I place the needs of others before my own, and I stop grumbling and complaining about what I don’t like. Don’t stop reading books and attending Bible studies—those can be great tools for spiritual growth—but don’t confuse the accumulation of Bible knowledge with a growing love for Christ and submission to his will. Remember, no one studied the Bible more than the Pharisees, and according to Jesus, no one misunderstood spiritual maturity like the Pharisees.

Who Wants to Kill Jesus?

John 7:19-24

Israel’s religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. They first planned to kill him after he healed a lame man on the Sabbath (5:18). Jesus pinpoints the real reason they wanted to kill him, when he says in effect, “You want to kill me because you say I broke the law, but your desire to kill me violates the law. Doesn’t Moses say, ‘Do not murder’?” (see 7:19). The reason they hated Jesus was because he exposed their self-righteousness.

Few things are as dangerous as self-righteousness. What motivates a group of self-professing law keepers to break the law flagrantly? Self-righteousness. We should understand the appeal of self-righteousness. No one wants to think of himself or herself as a bad person. Self-righteousness—viewing myself as pretty good, pretty righteous—is natural, but it’s dangerous because it’s deceptive. It deceives me about how good I am. The Jewish religious leaders loved to compare themselves to the worst in society: the tax collectors (basically a group of thieves) and the prostitutes. When Jesus came, he forced them to compare themselves to him: God in the flesh.

Self-righteousness also deceives us about how self-righteous we are. I’ve never met a person who admits to being self-righteous. One of the famous villains in Batman is called Two-Face. One side of his face looks normal, and the other side was disfigured in a horrible accident. So when he looks in the mirror, if he turns a certain direction, he looks normal—handsome even. There’s some of Two-Face in all of us. We struggle with sin. We battle pride, anger, despair, lust, and greed. But when we look in the mirror, self-righteousness turns our faces to one side. Our ugliness is hidden, and all we see are the good things we’ve done. We don’t see the ugly side; even the ugliness of self-righteousness is out of view. Don’t think you’re free from the seductive power of self-righteousness. The moment you stop suspecting yourself is the moment self-righteousness seizes control. Do you think the religious leaders thought they were being self-righteous? No, they thought they were just doing what was right. Self-righteousness often feels right. That’s why it’s so deceptive.

The ultimate danger of self-righteousness is that it squeezes out any space for grace. The religious leaders lacked grace. They didn’t extend grace to others. They didn’t speak with grace. Why? Because they didn’t see their own need for grace. They saw their righteousness and thought they were fine. Grace was irrelevant, unnecessary. Those who see grace as unnecessary for them will never show grace to others. If self-righteousness is given a room, before we know it or realize it, it will spread to every corner, and grace will be evicted. And due to the deceptive nature of self-righteousness, we’ll even feel good about it.

The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath, but Jesus said healing and circumcision are no different (vv. 21-23). Both are ways to bless, care for, and show grace to others. Due to their self-righteousness, they couldn’t bring themselves to see Jesus’s kindness to a man as a good thing. They were anti-grace. Here are two questions to diagnose self-righteousness.

How do you treat people who are different from you? For the Jewish leaders circumcision on the Sabbath was fine but not healing. For us the distinction may be age, music, dress, and priorities. But self-righteousness is evident in how we handle differences. The whole point of self-righteousness is that self is the standard for what’s righteous. So self-righteousness can appear anywhere someone does something different from what I do. Are you the standard for what’s right or wrong?

Do you excuse in yourself what you accuse in others? The Jewish leaders could do something on the Sabbath—circumcise—and it was OK. But Jesus couldn’t do something on the Sabbath—heal—because it was wrong. If they did it, it must be OK. If someone else did it, it was worthy of scorn and ridicule and judgment. When you find yourself accusing someone else, ask if you would excuse or rationalize the same behavior in yourself. If so, you’ve found where self-righteousness is hiding.

Who Is Jesus?

John 7:25-31

Many of the Jewish people were trying to piece together the puzzle of Jesus. “Maybe it’s possible he’s the Messiah. Maybe he’s the one God promised long ago through Moses and the Prophets. Could he really be the one?” The question of Jesus’s identity permeates this chapter. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Some say he’s a good man; others say he’s a deceiver (v. 12). Some think he’s demon possessed (v. 20), while others believe he’s the Messiah (v. 40). Is Jesus the Messiah? That’s the question the crowd is asking, and it’s the question of the Gospel of John. We find a clear answer when we consider chapters 6 and 7 together.

chapter 6 started with Jesus miraculously feeding the Jews with bread while they are out in the wilderness. Next, Jesus miraculously crosses the sea. On the other side of the sea, he talked about Moses, manna, and the new covenant. The people didn’t like what he said, so they began to grumble and complain; many turned and walked away in unbelief. It sounds familiar if you’ve read the Pentateuch. In Exodus God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness. While they were there, he fed them with bread from heaven, called manna. To get them to the wilderness, he miraculously parted the sea so they could get across. While in the wilderness, he delivered to Moses the old covenant. The people began to grumble and complain, and by the time they made it to the promised land, the nation turned and walked away in unbelief, unwilling to follow God and his chosen leader into the land of promise.

John 7 continues this theme. The setting is the Festival of Shelters, a commemoration instituted in Leviticus 23. The purpose of the festival was to remind the Israelites and their descendants that God brought them out of Egypt (Lev 23:42-43). God provided for his people when they were on their way to the promised land. Here’s the ironic part. That time of Israel’s wandering—when God was meeting their needs in the wilderness—was characterized by grumbling, complaining, and unbelief. Centuries later we find the Jews celebrating God’s salvation from Egypt and the way he provided for them. Jesus comes into town during the celebration, and he reveals himself as the greater Moses, as the ultimate provision of God sent to bring salvation to God’s people. This time will they believe in him? Some did (7:30-31). They believed because Jesus perfectly fit the criteria for the Messiah. They looked at the promises of God, and they looked at the life of Jesus, and the two were a perfect match.

Will You Come to Jesus?

John 7:32-39

The Pharisees don’t like Jesus. In fact, they want to kill Jesus because he’s honest with them. He’s not afraid to point out their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. His unwillingness to coddle them has enraged them to the point where they’re actively seeking to murder him. Everyone in Jerusalem is talking about Jesus. People are murmuring about Jesus. You could translate the word murmuring as “whispering.” They’re afraid to speak publicly about Jesus because they don’t want to suffer the wrath of the Pharisees. Verse 32 said the crowd was whispering “these things.” What things? They were wondering if Jesus could possibly be the Messiah. Everything he said and did pointed to him being the one sent by God to defeat sin and rescue people from death. Imagine crowds of people walking through Jerusalem, saying, “Could Jesus really be the Messiah?” And every time a Pharisee walks by, they look down and become quiet.

Before Jesus invites the crowds to come to him, he warns them they must make a decision (vv. 33-34). He will be leaving soon to return to his Father. Things are going to change. They can’t wait indefinitely to decide whether to come to him. The crowds respond with confusion. They don’t understand what Jesus means about leaving. They wonder if he is leaving to live with the Greeks due to the dispersion (vv. 35-36). At first the inclusion of their speculation seems pointless, but their question about the dispersion and the Greeks is included because it’s foreshadowing. After Jesus dies, is buried, and rises again, he teaches his disciples for forty days and then ascends to heaven. Once he leaves, his disciples begin to tell others about him. They come under severe persecution and are dispersed from Jerusalem. Many of them travel and begin to tell non-Jewish people (the Greeks) about Jesus. Eventually the message of Jesus will make its way to all people. It will spread because the invitation Jesus gives is for everyone. No country, no ethnicity, no gender, no class, no language, no people are excluded from the invitation Jesus gives.

On the last day of the Festival of Shelters, Jesus extends an amazing invitation to the people (vv. 37-39). To understand the invitation, we need to understand the Scripture Jesus quotes. His statement, “Streams of living water [will] flow from deep within him,” points us back to Isaiah. The first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah talk primarily about judgment: on Judah, on Jerusalem, and on the nations surrounding Israel. There are even chapters prophesying judgment on the whole world. The judgment is due to the wickedness of each of these nations. Though there are many glimpses of hope in the first thirty-nine chapters, the book really takes a turn in chapter 40. Instead of judgment, we find promises of salvation that dominate the remaining twenty-six chapters, which center on someone called “the Servant.”

  • In chapter 52 we find out the Servant is God. He’s described as “raised and lifted up” (52:13)—the same phrase in Hebrew that Isaiah uses to describe God (6:1).
  • In chapter 53 we find out that the Servant will bring salvation by hanging on a tree, suffering, and dying in the place of sinners.
  • In chapter 54 we find out that the death and resurrection of the Servant allows God to offer us an eternal covenant of peace, and we can live free from fear of judgment.

If you read Isaiah’s book, by the time you reach chapter 55 (the chapter Jesus references in John 7), you know God will send his Servant—who is God—to save his people from judgment. Now compare these two invitations:

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. (John 7:37)

Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water. (Isa 55:1)

Jesus, the Messiah, the Servant, the Son of God, invites thirsty people to come to him and drink. When we hear the invitation to come and drink, we don’t get how important it is. We’re spoiled by our unlimited selection of beverages. When Jesus says he’ll give the thirsty water, we must understand the gravity of the situation. Remember he’s saying this on the final day of the Festival of Shelters. The Festival of Shelters commemorates a time in Israel’s history when they were stuck in the desert. Those who are thirsty in a desert are dying. This is why so many of the miracles during the time of Israel’s wandering in the desert had to do with water: Moses striking a rock and water pouring out, Moses commanded to speak to a rock so water would come out, and God providing water in the midst of the desert. In a desert water means life. In a desert, if you’re thirsty, you’re dying.

Jesus is inviting the dying to come to him for life. Are you dying? Yes, we’re all dying. What can we do about it? Jesus invites the dying to come to him. The one in the desert with his strength fading, struggling to go on, hears the promise of water, and he knows that’s his only hope. Your only hope is Jesus. Only Jesus can give you water. Only Jesus can give you life. Look at what Jesus promises: not only will he give you a drink, but he will put a river of water in your heart (John 7:38). To those in the desert, a cup of water is great, but a river of water changes their lives: it guarantees life; it is a source of unending life. This is what Jesus promises. If you come to him, he will give you unending life by putting his Spirit inside you. He will actually put some of him inside you.

He says in effect, “If you’re dying (and you all are), come to me. Not only will I give you life, but I will put my Spirit inside of you so that you will always have life. My Spirit inside of you will become a river of unending life.” The Spirit will be a river of water inside you, and no desert or drought can ever cause it to run dry. Water to the thirsty, life to the dying—Jesus is all of this and more.

Now, I know how some people think: But this sounds too good to be true. I’d love some water. I need life, but I don’t have anything to offer Jesus. Idon’t deserve it, and I’ve got no way to get it. God says,

“Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without cost!” (Isa 55:1)

Jesus doesn’t want your money. He wants you. He invites you to come empty-handed to him, and when you do, you’ll never be empty-handed again. We have nothing, but for some reason God still wants us, so he invites us to come. Come empty-handed. Come with no money. Come with nothing. Come dying. But you must come. Remember the warning Jesus gave, that some would seek him and not find him (John 7:34). That sounds a lot like Isaiah 55:6: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call to him while he is near.” If you don’t find life before death, you can’t find life after death. If you don’t drink the water before you die, you won’t have the chance afterward. How do you come to Jesus?

Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, so he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will freely forgive. (Isa 55:7)

Do You Believe Jesus?

John 7:40-52

You won’t come to Jesus if you don’t believe him. If you believe he’s God, if you believe he’s the only source of life, if you believe he will give you his Spirit, if you believe he loves you, if you believe he’s gracious and merciful, if you believe he’s the fulfillment of all God’s promises, then you’ll come to him. If not, then you won’t. If you’re wrestling with whether to believe, you’re not alone (vv. 40-44). But if you have already decided you don’t want to believe him, then you’ll find an excuse not to. We see it here. They thought his hometown ruled him out as the Messiah, but they were wrong about where he was born. But if you want to find the truth, if you want to know if this is real, then you need to examine what the Bible says about Jesus. Is he the Son of God?

Those who were unbiased saw something unique about Jesus, and they couldn’t help but be affected (vv. 45-46). I love their response: “You ask why didn’t we arrest him? Have you heard him speak? There’s no one like him” (my paraphrase). But the Pharisees had decided, and no amount of evidence would change it. They had chosen not to believe, so they came up with lame excuses to make their unbelief seem reasonable (vv. 47-52). They didn’t believe Jesus because they didn’t want to believe Jesus. Their unbelief was rooted in an unwillingness to discern the truth.


For decades one of the first places immigrants to America landed was Ellis Island. They came hoping for a better life, longing for a chance to find happiness. Near Ellis Island was a statue, and the statue was an invitation. A poem by Emma Lazarus captured the invitation:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What a beautiful invitation. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” Jesus extends a better invitation. “Come, weary and broken. Come, thirsty and dying. Come to me and find life.”

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Why do Jesus’s half siblings want him to go to Jerusalem?
  2. Do you ever bargain with God in the same way Jesus’s siblings do, asking him to show himself as God in order to get something you want?
  3. Why do the people begin to hate Jesus?
  4. Why does Jesus expose sin?
  5. How can the way we deal with sin either distort or clarify the gospel?
  6. How is it possible for someone to know a lot of information about Scripture and still not understand it?
  7. Why do the religious leaders hate Jesus and want to kill him?
  8. What ways does self-righteousness deceive us? Why is this deception so dangerous?
  9. Use the two self-righteousness self-diagnosis questions. Is there anything in your life you need to confess and repent of?
  10. How does Jesus use Isaiah 55:1 to invite the people to come drink? What is he inviting them to believe and do?